Sunday, April 5, 2009

What Nationality Would You Like to be Other Than Your Own?

Part 2
"Céad míle fáilte"
(pronounced: kayud meela failte')
"A Hundred Thousand Welcomes"!
The question "What nationality would you like to be other than your own?" got me thinking about my grandparents. As previously mentioned in Part 1, my maternal grandparents were straight off the boat from Ireland. These are their passport pictures.
My grandmother, Ellen "Nellie" Ahern, arrived in Boston on June 11, 1920, at the age of 23. She was from Killorglin, outside of Killarney, in County Kerry. My grandfather, Timothy Sullivan, arrived in Boston on November 20, 1920, at the age of 21. He was from Skibbereen, in County Cork. They came to escape the oppression and poverty in Ireland. In my grandmother's case, her father insisted she emigrate despite leaving a boyfriend in Ireland. The myth perpetuated in "the old country" was that America's streets were paved in gold.
They met by accident. My grandfather's sister Bridie and my grandmother worked as domestics in Brookline, MA. Grandpa knocked on the door to visit Bridie one day, but instead the door was opened by my grandmother. He had the wrong house. Love at first sight!!!! And the rest, as they say, is history. (Many thanks to my Aunt Helen for the background information.)
My grandmother had a sister in Boston. She also worked as a domestic throughout her life. Her name was Katherine; friends and employers called her "Kate" or "Katie". We, her great nieces and nephews, called her "Gogo". I don't remember how that came about. She lived above my grandparents when we were kids, so we visited with her often when we visited my grandparents.
My grandparents settled in an area of Boston known as "Mission Hill". It was an Irish community. The focal point of the community was the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mission Church. They raised four daughters there. Over the years I remember my mother mentioning people she would run into from "Mission Hill".
I have many fond memories of my grandmother, called Nana by her grandchildren. My older sister and I spent many nights with her. She would get up every morning, rain or shine, and walk to the 7:00 Mass. She would tell us to stay in bed until she returned. She would then get us up for breakfast. I remember the hot sweet tea and her Irish bread. I still drink hot tea, but now without the sugar. She made wonderful Irish bread, which I didn't know till years later was also called Irish Soda Bread. She would make it in any pan or can she had available; bread pans, coffee tins. We asked her for the recipe, but she didn't have one. It was a pinch of this, a handful of that. We couldn't write down the amounts because she didn't know the measurements. Her bread is long gone; just a memory of toasted with lots of melting butter and maybe jelly or sometimes with peanut butter spread over the slices lingers. Yum!
On her street, Calumet Street, in one direction, on a corner was a candy store. In another direction, down the street, on another corner, was a neighborhood grocery store. It carried everything from groceries to more. I remember a doll I especially liked in that grocery store. We would walked to both often. It is a wonder we didn't have more cavities from the candy store. Remember penny candy!?
We would play with some of the neighborhood kids. We were the novelty in her neighborhood. We were from the suburbs.
We used to kid my grandmother about her accent. She would just laugh and tell us we had the funny accent. We would ask her to say words in Gaelic. She would. I remember asking her to say a "cuss" word in Gaelic, figuring if I used it, no one would know what I was saying. She wouldn't do it. :(
Over the years, members of my family, including myself, have looked up members of my grandmother's and my grandfather's families back in Ireland. I was fortunate enough to look up cousins in Skibbereen back in 2006.
I miss my grandparents and the stories of the "old country" they would tell with their Irish brogues. We would ask my grandmother if it was a British soldier boyfriend she had left behind, as that was something not done in her day; dating an Englishman. We would ask my grandfather about the IRA, and I know I grew up thinking he had been a runner for them. What imaginations we had when we would think about what they had left behind, not knowing the half of it, the politics and the poverty.
I remember being asked as an adult if I was Lace Curtain Irish or Shanty Irish. I had to admit I was Shanty Irish but was not the least bit embarrassed about it. My grandparents came to America to make a new life for themselves and would be very proud of their surviving daughters and what they and their families and the third generation kids have accomplished.
I was named after my grandmother. My middle name is Ellen. So no, there is no other nationality I would like to be.
"Éirinn go brách"
(pronounced: Erin go braugh)
"Ireland Forever"!

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